back to overview

Carl Morgenstern

* 1811 – † 1893

Albaner See (Lake Albano), ca. 1835

Oil on paper mounted on canvas

As a passionate landscape painter and the scion of a famous artistic dynasty, Carl Morgenstern readily succumbed to the “yearning for Italy” that excited so many German writers and artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, especially following the publication of Goethe’s Italian Journey. In October 1834 Morgenstern followed his fellow artists southwards and spent three years roaming the Mediterranean. There the Frankfurt native visited the most diverse parts of Italy and amassed an impressive collection of oil studies and drawings that would serve him as both model and inspiration for his lavishly coloured, atmospheric studio paintings.1 The work under discussion here, is a finished oil study for Morgenstern’s painting Albaner See mit Castel Gandolfo und Kloster Palazzolo (Lake Albano with Gastel Gandolfo and the Convent of Palazzolo),2 which the artist began working on in his studio in Rome in the winter of 1836, but finished only later after returning to Frankfurt.3 The study manages entirely without staffage and shows nature just as Morgenstern found it on his expedition into the Alban Hills. The warm light of the setting sun in the left background is enough to tell us that this is an evening scene.4 The soft yellow sunlight gradually disperses into the vast blue sky, streaked only by a few isolated clouds, while the last sunbeams of the day blur the faint blue lines adumbrating the sparkling Tyrrhenian Sea in the far distance. Before us lies a narrow path leading to the mirror-like lake embedded in the hills that forms the epicenter of this landscape. Rising from two places on its left shore are wisps of smoke that gradually dissolve into the green hillside. The umbrella pine and diagonal walls of the convent of Palazzolo5 perched on the high terrain in the right foreground serve to generate a sense of depth, drawing us into the picture and towards the lake and the infinite expanse of the sea beyond. Morgenstern painted his oil study of Lake Albano in situ, applying swift and loose brushstrokes so as to capture the impression of the warm light of the setting sun on the low horizon and the bright colours and atmospheric mood of the Mediterranean landscape with as much immediacy as possible. The finished painting Lake Albano with Castel Gandolfo and the Convent of Palazzolo, by contrast, is relatively large by Morgenstern’s standards and shows a through-composed, idealized landscape complete with flute-playing shepherds and goats at rest as staffage. There, Morgenstern corrected the workings of chance so as to produce a perfect backdrop that would appeal to prevailing tastes. He therefore moved the hill with the convent to the middle ground and added some extra pines to make the view of Latium seem even more expansive, while at the same time providing an internal frame for his composition. The heavily stylized studio painting is also painted with much finer paint and with much sharper light-dark contrasts, thus ensuring that the middle ground with Lake Albano and the convent complex are illuminated, while the foreground containing the staffage remains in shade.

  1. Carl Morgenstern und die Landschaftsmalerei seiner Zeit, exh. cat. Museum Giersch, Frankfurt am Main 2011, Petersberg 2011, p. 7.

  2. Carl Morgenstern, Albaner See mit Castel Gandolfo und Kloster Palazzolo, 1836, oil on canvas, 75 x 105 cm, privately owned, see Carl Morgenstern und die Landschaftsmalerei seiner Zeit, exh. cat. p. 130 fig. 49.

  3. Carl Morgenstern, exh. cat. Kunsthandlung J. P. Schneider jr., Frankfurt am Main 1993, Frankfurt am Main 1993, fig. 26.

  4. The packing list of the works that he was shipping to Frankfurt that Morgenstern drew up in June 1837 does not name the fourth painting, but instead provides the following description: “a small one with mountains, middle ground, several buildings on high terrain, and below an expanse of water extending as far as the foreground, which is illuminated from left, evening.” This could be the oil study under discussion here (see Eichler, Inge, Carl Morgenstern. Unter besonderer Berücksichtigung seiner Schaffensphase von 1826–1846, Darmstadt 1976, p. 73).

  5. Morgenstern mentions the geographical location of his work Der Albaner See mit Castel Gandolfo und Kloster Palazzolo in a letter to his family in Frankfurt dated 26 December 1836. There he describes it as “quite a wide view, horizon in the middle, in the distance Rome, then the shore of the lake with Castel Gandolfo, in the far distance the sea, the convent of Pallazuolo in the right middle ground, in the foreground a path and a few trees not yet underpainted,” (see Eichler 1976, p. 73).

back to overview